Each one of these names has a theme song associated with it, ones so familiar they are ingrained into our collective musical minds.
I was just sitting in my writing chair, hashing out the details to another blog topic, having some wine and listening to my “Drinkyface” playlist when my theme song came up. It’s the music that plays in my head when I’m looking really good. Hell, it’s the music that plays in my head when I feel like shit just to snap me out of it. I call it my “walking music.” It is a musical summation of my character, from the giggle when I talk right down to the wiggle in my walk.
The technical, fancy-schmancy musical term for this is a leitmotif (lite-mo-teef); a short piece of music that occurs repeatedly to identify a person, a place, a thing… you get the idea. As you read on, click the theme names for an audio link and you’ll understand completely. Leitmotifs became associated with the operas of Richard Wagner, and found a resurgence and new home in cinema and television.
What is interesting about a leitmotif is what happens to the listener when it appears; it is often only a few notes long: the Indiana Jones theme is recognizable in the first four notes, The Simpsons in three, and Jaws in just two notes, for Pete’s sake! All three of these examples call up images of each character, but it’s not limited to visual association! I am going to full-on, music dork out on you right now…
Leimotifs are so powerful, and infiltrate our minds with such stealth and fluidity, we have an emotional reaction to them. Oh, you don’t believe me? Click here, smartypants…
Think about the first time seven year old you realized the Imperial March warned that Darth Vader was coming back on screen; it surely stirred some kind of emotion. I was all excited because I dug his swanky black digs. How about the beautiful and hauntingly painful orchestration of Michael Corleone’s theme?
And then there is the theme to Jaws. My reaction is one of paralyzing, panicking, sissified fear. Ironically, I use that as my mother’s ringtone. Indiana Jones makes me feel like the fedora-wearing hero has come to save the day. The James Bond theme makes me feel… well OK, it makes me want a martini, an Aston-Martin, and an English spy. You get the picture, right?
Leitmotifs connect us emotionally to what we see on screen. Many studies have found that we form the deepest memories when they are attached to emotions. Isn’t that a sneaky little device composers and movie directors use!
So the next time you’re perusing your un-pilfered musical library, check out some of that tunage and find what is your theme music. Mine is Chameleon, the Herbie Hancock standard. I have a sick addiction to funk, what can I say? (SICK). It just makes me feel goooooood, and a little bit like a tiny badass, but mostly just good.
What’s your theme song, Ace?